If the title of the new exhibit at Sin City Gallery has you expecting a subtle nod to Hieronymus Bosch, you just might find it. In Desert of Earthly Delights, New Zealand artist JK Russ unites erotic imagery, desert terrain and pop culture, creating otherworldly environments where the vulgar and frightening merge with the luscious and the beautiful.
Russ’ hand-assembled collages show alluring women, clipped from sex magazines, reigning over barren landscapes and resting on thorny cacti, their heads often replaced by those of predatory animals. Snakes and spiders, symbolizing the artist’s own phobias, decorate female creatures, dressed regally and posing amid atmospheric backdrops that incorporate the desert’s natural palette. A blue-skinned woman posing with a snake around her neck is a wholesome-looking American girl next door (circa 1950s), while a chesty naked brunette in stilettos crouches erotically on a large boulder, sucking a sex toy.
Russ rearranges the familiar and creates engaging compositions, mostly in the scale of record album covers, that portray women who are strong, sexual and alien, whether emitting fashionable ’60s elegance or nakedly mounting the earth. Stylistically, it’s no surprise that Russ, who majored in photography and studied female sexuality, appreciates works by the late German artist Hannah Höch (during the Dada movement) and sometime Las Vegas artist Aaron Shepard.
Russ moved to town more than a year ago, and already her work absorbs the awe of the desert and its sculptural rock formations and creatures, along with her observations of the sexually charged casino culture, built on fantasy and illusion. Like the themes in her works, she’s an alien in an unfamiliar place, much like the rest of us.